The other day I decided to note how often I reach for my phone, read emails, check texts, or scroll through social feeds. I counted 56 times in one day! I had to stop in my tracks when I looked at my total and wonder, “How is this impacting my focus and productivity? Am I really happier with all this interaction and information?”
The inquiry reminded me of a book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a professor and scientist. According to Newport, deep work is classified as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.” He examined the cognitive impact that social media and office distractions have, and the importance of undivided attention in completing meaningful work. By removing distractions, he argues, we can move beyond “shallow work” to reach new levels of productivity and produce a substantial amount of work.
Without going into all the details of the book, I thought I’d share some highlights as I have many a discussion with clients around the relationship with their phones and devices and their ever-declining attention spans.
In many cases, people suffer from FOMO, or fear of missing out. Social media is not bad, it’s our FOMO that keeps us groomed to always check in. What Newport points us to is the growing amount of research that tells us if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention, this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration. Think of how often you are interrupted with notifications and updates. Even a quick glance at Twitter or reviewing an email can cost you about 15 to 20 minutes of attention loss. Our brains are simply not wired for that level of distraction.
So here are some of Newport’s ideas to integrate deep work and use your brain in more meaningful ways:
- Work deeply. It takes practice to work your way to integrate long stretches of time. Try setting 90 minutes aside without interruption. Building up these periods of concentration will produce better results AND more fulfillment.
- Protect your time. Maintain a set of rituals and routines to ease deep work into your day. On Sundays, I take 20 minutes to schedule my week and make sure to implement deep work sections for writing, research, marketing and learning.
- Relax your mind. If you can sit still and stare outside or quietly meditate for at least 5 minutes then you can train your brain to spend more time in deeper work.
- Get the distraction out. Learn to take a few electronic detox breaks. Start with a day. Then try a weekend. This allows you to notice not only how much you are distracted (and owned!) by your devices but it also gives you a chance to develop your capacities to do deep work.
- Cut the shallow work. I’m guilty of this often as I whip through email responses as they come in only to find I’ve become a “human router”. No deep work there! Newport says, “Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”
Give yourself a chance to step back and notice who is running whom. You’ll never regret taking action that supports you coming back to the experiences you want in life. Being present, focused and engaged not only produces deep work but it also creates deep satisfaction. Isn’t that what you’re here for?
If this resonates with you and you’d like to overcome some of your own barriers to living the life you want, then click here and I’ll make sure we connect. And you know I like to share the love, so if you know someone who could benefit from this article then please share it! Imagine, thought by thought and act by act we are creating a more conscious world.